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Rimah Ahmad


The effects of ethnicity, class & culture upon indigenous students education and
how critical race theory(CRT) addresses them

This essay will examine the intersection of race, culture, and class upon indigenous students
educational performance and how marginalisation may impact their future life aspiration,
opportunity, and chances. Although each category mentioned above is relevant, the focus of
this essay will be on the indigenous culture/society and the limitation of Australian educational
policy. This paper will seek to find out why indigenous students has faced inequity and
discrimination although there is nationwide attention toward addressing this issue. Secondly, I
will propose that to achieve success it is crucial that authentic integration of indigenous content
and perspective is applied throughout the curriculum. In addition, the socioeconomic status of
indigenous students is the main causative agent of them feeling alienation which leads them to
constantly fall behind. Using the aspect of critical race theory (CRT) to allow critical thinking
and understanding the complexity of race and how it is pervasive in society and in education
particularly (Rudolph, 2011). I attempt to bring some of the important concepts of CRT and
some of its tenet to support this essay and provide the structure to analyse and address
educational injustices related to indigenous students. Finally, I will discuss my own
intercultural understandings through my life experience and in which way it may be applied
through my teaching practice.

The term intersectionality refers to multidimensional aspect of human culture, experience and
it is the description of the phases when multiple identities of cultural experience are either
integrated or in other cases intersect. Individuals in today’s society carry a set of identities and
ability status that position them within multiple system of inequity for example race, ethnicity,
class and even gender and sexuality which contribute to social implications (Appleby, Colon,
& Hamilton, 2011). Australian education is highly recognised as a powerful component in
socioeconomic disadvantage between groups. This demographic reality of cultural diversity in
Australia has established a very complex education system and has power to provide equal life
chances to many different culture background students (Gray, 2008). Yet there is a distinct gap
in educational justices that significantly impact students from disadvantaged backgrounds
including indigenous people. The power of excellent standard often struggles to define its
failure to change the outcome attributed to different groups within the society in which it is
defined by the intersectionality of class, gender or even ethnicity in which indigenous people
are (Gray, 2008).
Rimah Ahmad

In the beginning of the 1960’s Australian education system become aware of profound
disadvantage within indigenous people that mainly occurred because of the systematic and
institutional racism observed in education system (Dunn, 2001). From there more recent studies
brought the attention to new strategies such as closing the gap or bridging the gap that aims to
address and justifies the issue of indigenous people and to provide the foundation to new
policies of extensive connection between school and indigenous culture (Gray, 2008).
However, many reports are still considering a major problem in indigenous people’s education
achievement and life aspiration. In 2009 Council of Australian Governments (COAG) reported
that a high percentage of indigenous people hold poor literacy and numeracy skills. In fact,
many of those students were not regularly attending school and the quality of teachers working
in indigenous schools also showed to play a role in influencing indigenous education. The issue
with these reports were firstly that they introduced the gap but in the other hand they failed to
recognise the causative agents and more importantly why they are persistent which is the core
of this essay. Secondly the outcome of recommendation focused on action that is known to
improve the success of non-indigenous students but it lacked the attention to ask if these
strategies relating to indigenous students are really working, and what are the difficulties
indigenous students experience (Rudolph, 2011). This bring us to important point the
Australian policy issues related to multiculturalism, ethnicity including critical policy with
related to indigenous education. Prout 2009 investigated an analysis of social inclusion related
to indigenous community and illustrated the relationship between indigenous spatiality and
education outcome and the power of policies to emphasise that standard testing is a factor
which contributed to educational failure. She then proposed that designing critical policy
related to indigenous people requires deep understanding of contextual needs (Prout, 2009)

Moving to the argument elicited in the beginning of this essay that authentic integration of
indigenous content and equity will be require to achieve a success. The following section will
discuss the proposal of the idea and it’s limitations. Integration of the content is based on the
idea that cultural differences account for failure, especially in an indigenous student’s case.
Bring this content will assess the balance in education system and provide more transformative
learning strategies that is capable to build a place for first nation student. More importantly
common finding suggested that integration of curriculum did address the indigenous student’s
problems. Indeed, there have been other researches investigating the outcome but at the same
limitation of this approach also raised. This included firstly the school environment and the
idea of white group superiority versus non-white inferiority. Secondly the teachers, whose

Rimah Ahmad

responsibility is to illustrate the curriculum to students and treat all students in an equity manner
(Vanhouwe, 2007).

There is no doubt that even having the quality curriculum teacher’s knowledge and attitude is
a central requirement for student inspiration. Perhaps teacher student positive relation is core
to life inspiration. The third limitation is the curriculum itself, the lack of knowledge of
indigenous aspect and more importantly marginalisation of indigenous voice and ignoring to
perpetuate the poverty and socioeconomic oppression that indigenous people experienced
because of old and current governments policies may lead to no progress of engaging
indigenous students into the education system (Vanhouwe, 2007). In relation to this and to
address the argument presented in the beginning of this paper that the culture and
socioeconomic traits are important factors of indigenous education. Partington (2003) explains
how considerable number of indigenous students expressing that teachers in general do not
care about them and so the teacher’s attitude is what brings the beliefs of dominant discourse
of community to the classroom. Furthermore, it is this dominant discourse and limited
knowledge of indigenous culture that influences the social injustice in education related to
indigenous student’s motivation and life aspiration (Partington, 2003).

In return the socioeconomic state is also a core principle because educational succeed of
indigenous students is a nationwide concern. The difficulty of indigenous student is largely
scaffold by culture dynamic. Many indigenous students especially from non-urban areas and
from early age express unmotivated behaviour and so less engagement within the classroom
which in return imposes more control from the teacher to overcome the behaviour. Another is
language because language is very strong point contributing difficulty in communication
between indigenous students and the surrounding environment as well as culture characteristics
and family. The family of indigenous students may be quite different compare to their
colleagues or even different to teacher’s expectation. Many indigenous children are found to
live in multi-family groups as a result of poverty and alcoholism. This is very common in
indigenous society which causes indigenous students to have fewer resources for learning and
engaging within school. This socioeconomic state has been the attention for many researches
and policy programs aimed to improve indigenous education, however base on demonstration
by researchers, a lot of this issues is still to be covered and resolved (Keddie, Gowlett, Mills,
Monk, & Renshaw, 2012).

Rimah Ahmad

As has been already disused there is national attention toward indigenous school educational
succeed both at the government level and literature level (Howard, & Navarro, 2016).
However, many of the outcomes and policies introduced to improve indigenous education are
yet to address the core issues (Ferfolja, T. Díaz, C. J. & Ullman, J,2015). Therefore, applying
some concepts of CRT related to ethnicity and class based disadvantages will be ideal to
facilitate the understanding of how race is implanted in the education society and also, to
challenge the forces of traditional ideology of diversity and justice. In addition, using tenets of
CRT as integral pieces in the indigenous education puzzle will open a window to address
equality and equity issues caused by racism. The capability of CRT as a theoretical framework
to revolutionize how we study race in education is a power agonist dominant within the
education system. Two key US theorists involved in the development of CRT are Gloria
Ladson-Billings and William F. Tate. Ladson-Billings and Tate (2006) discuss the notion of
race, the complexities of this concept, and the limitations of viewing it as either an ‘ideological
construct’ or an ‘objective condition’ (p 571). Lampert, & Burnett, 2015) demonstrated that
the theoretical approach of CRT has developed five central propositions that guides researcher
to studying topics such as equity related to racism and social justice in education. Thus,
involving an important tenet of CRT is useful to challenge the dominant discourse which in
this case is ethnicity and class. This promotes all researcher and percipient within education
including teachers to consider the effects of race and racism in education. Also, Valuing
experiential knowledge and giving the attention towards the impact of traditional ethnicity and
knowledge of indigenous community when attempting to understand social inequity (Lampert,
& Burnett, 2015)

Using these two points CRT’s construct the evaluation of methodological foundation that seek
to disrupt race within society and more importantly within education. Currently the Australian
government through the CRT framework are introducing several strategies to improve the
socioeconomical state of indigenous student and focus on closing the gap between indigenous
and non-indigenous students (Ferfolja et al, 2015).

Closing the gap specifically aims to implant authentic integration of culture identity through
the education system to allow appropriation of indigenous and non-indigenous culture ethnicity
and its perspective. At the policies level, many low level conventional schools are encountered
for extra funding. This funding is given to improve school and teaching quality in regarding
the school strategies providing teacher aides in the classroom or having social worker to aid
student who struggles with getting education or to integrate with curriculum. Whereas staff

Rimah Ahmad

training provides the foundation in which teachers are mindful of how racism is mediated in
every aspect of our life. Furthermore, using CRT teachers need to be capable to critically
analyse how race and racism within society influences student achievements and life aspiration.
As we already discussed teachers are the key element to success in the context related to student
education and life inspiration. Teacher in today society and especially in indigenous education
are required to be mindful and capable to enhance student’s aspiration.

In addition, the education institutions need to be on top of the issue even though the complexity
of indigenous education is very significant and requires society to be more critical when it
comes to ethnicity. While these strategies contained within CRT and to dismantle the
deafferents in educational levels between indigenous student and non-indigenous students
(Ferfolja, at el, 2015). Another setting composes of what is known as flexi-schools. The
potential of these schools is based upon evidence obtained through statistic which shows a low
academic achievement of indigenous students compared to other students. One example is
demonstrated by (MCEECDYA, 2009), their statistic proposed that between 2001 and 2009,
particularly for school years 3, 5 and 9 indigenous students were far behind in National
Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) (Ferfolja, at el 2015).

Upon reflection, I believe that reengaging young indigenous toward learning provides the
foundational base for improvement and finding interest of life for the students. In addition,
considering the complexity and the different forms of inequity and social injustice, it is
important to allow alternative form of learning by the teachers and education system. As
already been discussed, disadvantaged students have experienced difficulties at many levels
starting from school where they encounter many challenges of proving identity and seeking
equity and justice in the society. In contract school environment and teacher quality play
essential role in addressing indigenous student performance in school. The interaction of
teacher/student in class is vital, the teacher should be capable to critically analyse different
issues such as racism ethnicity that may rise within her/his students. To achieve this, teachers
need to consider and be aware of differences in culture background. In return the policies relate
to education need to also consider the diversity and emphasise different requirements for
disadvantaged groups within the community. This can be granted by integrating authentic
content and resources that aims to address the culture diversity and social justice in the
Australian educational system.

Rimah Ahmad

In my position as a student from a different cultural background I understand the difficulties

indigenous students encounter. The journey into a new country with different perspective and
different life exposure sets similar challenges to be faced. However, as a woman from an
educated family, this has affected me positively to acquire knowledge and understanding of
diversity within a diverse society such as Australia. It is important to be mindful towards
disadvantaged students and to acknowledge that difficulties can exist in the classroom. It is up
to me as a future addition to the Australian education system to try to provide an environment
where racism is not accepted and equity and justice is apparent among all students. This has
also allowed me to understand the effects that the political system has on minorities and to
acknowledge the acceptance of others. Critical thinking skills are a key for building a better
global society.

Rimah Ahmad


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functioning: Person-in-environment assessment and intervention. Boston: Allyn
and Bacon.
Dunn, M. (2001). Lessons from the past: Education and racism in Australia (pp.
65). Education in Rural Australia.

Ferfolja, T., Díaz, C. J., & Ullman, J. (2015). Understanding Sociological Theory for
Educational Practices (pp.50-98). Cambridge University Press.

Gray, J, & Beresford, Q. (2008). A 'Formidable Challenge': Australia's Quest for Equity in
Indigenous Education. Australian Journal of Education,, 52(2), 197-223.

Howard, T., & Navarro, O. (2016). Critical Race Theory 20 Years Later: Where Do We Go
From Here?. Urban Education, 51(3), 253-273.

Keddie, A., Gowlett, C., Mills, M., Monk, S., & Renshaw, P. (2012). Beyond culturalism:
addressing issues of Indigenous disadvantage through schooling. The Australian
Educational Researcher, 40(1), 91-108.

Lampert, J., Burnett, B. (2016). Teacher education for high poverty schools (pp.207-350).
Cham: Springer International Publishing. Retrieved from

Partington, G. (2003). Why Indigenous Issues are an Essential Component of Teacher

Education Programs. Australian Journal Of Teacher Education, 27(2).

Prout, S. (2009). Policy, Practice and the ‘Revolving Classroom Door’: Examining the
Relationship between Aboriginal Spatiality and the Mainstream Education
System. Australian Journal Of Education, 53(1), 39-53.

Rudolph, S. (2011). Rethinking indigenous educational disadvantage: a critical analysis of race

and whiteness in Australian education policy. Masters Research thesis, Melbourne
Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne

Vanhouwe, M & St. Denis, V (2007). White Teachers, Critical Race Theory and Aboriginal
Education. University of Saskatchewan

Rimah Ahmad

Race as a category denoting skin color was first used

Gloria Ladson-Billings (1998) Just what is critical race theory and what's it doing in a nice
field like education?, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11:1, 7-24,
DOI: 10.1080/095183998236863

Christie, M. (2006). Transdisciplinary Research and Aboriginal Knowledge. <i>The

Australian Journal of Indigenous Education,</i> <i>35</i>, 78-89.